WASHINGTON (CNN) – A day after reports that former Vice President Cheney instructed the Central Intelligence Agency not to share with Congress information about a specific intelligence program, Republicans are attempting to downplay a possible violation of the laws governing intelligence gathering while Democrats are attempting to sound an alarm about the possibility of Congress being denied critical information affecting national security.
“That’s a serious breach,” Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
Fellow Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said she would be “extremely surprised” if a loophole in the laws governing briefing Congress would justify what the CIA reportedly did at Cheney’s direction.
Stebanow said reports that Cheney had directed the withholding of information from Congress were “very, very serious.”
“But this really, goes to a larger question that we struggled with throughout the [George W.] Bush presidency – which is checks and balances.”
“There is a reason why we have checks and balances,” Stabenow also said Sunday, “we don’t have a dictatorship. We have a Congress that is a responsible to oversee and to ask questions on behalf of the people. And I think that’s what we saw continually challenged,” during the last administration.
Republican Sen. Judd Gregg said that, if true, reports about Cheney’s directions to the CIA suggested actions that were not appropriate but the senator also said Sunday that the recent reports might be the beginning of using the intelligence agency as “a whipping boy.” That kind of reaction runs the risk of undermining the morale of the agency while it is playing a critical role in battling terrorism, Gregg also said.
Fellow Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander suggested that concerns among Congressional Democrats about the extent of briefings by the CIA might undermine the agency’s mission.
“The CIA is in the secrecy business . . . the best way to ruin the secrecy business is to tell a lot of Members of Congress,” Alexander told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Alexander suggested that the so-called “gang of eight,” Congressional leaders with responsibility for overseeing intelligence, should sit down with President Obama and the new CIA director ask for the information they are entitled to under the nation’s intelligence laws.